By Ron Rop

MUSKEGON – Last weekend, the Muskegon Big Reds atoned for an earlier loss to Zeeland West in the Division 3 regional title game.

After dropping a 38-36 decision during the regular season, the Big Reds came back to post a 27-20 victory last weekend at historic Hackley Stadium.

This weekend, the Big Reds have a chance to do it again against DeWitt, which defeated the Big Reds 14-0 in their last meeting in the Division 3 state semifinals 2 seasons ago. DeWitt went on to win the state title in 2020. It finished as state runners-up in 2021.

This year’s battle will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Greenville High School.

The first thing that popped out to Coach Shane Fairfield was the complexity of the Panthers’ offensive schemes.

“It’s hard to figure out what they are doing,” Fairfield said. “They run 17 offenses so it’s kind of a grab bag. When you look at their full house, their double tight, their single wing and their double wing and their shotgun and their spread and their one back.

“They do a lot of different stuff, for some reason,” Fairfield said. “But, it must be working for them.”

That leaves the Big Reds’ defense, led by Fairfield, the defensive coordinator, with the job of picking apart those schemes and preparing a strategy to stop them. That group includes Scott Fodrocy (linebacker coach), Don Poole (defensive ends), Terrance Taylor and Tracy Lewis (defensive tackles), Je’Quante Smith (outside linebackers) and Lorenzo Rodriguez (defensive backs).

There has been plenty of communication among that group with phone calls, texts and meetings.

“We are going to have our work cut out for us, breaking it down and keeping it simple,” said Fairfield, who starts three sophomores and four juniors on defense. “And keeping our movement to a minimum so we know what we’re doing.”

With the uncertainty of Michigan weather in the middle of November, it’s anyone guess what Saturday could bring. Early forecasts were for 25 degrees and a bit breezy.

“I think it’s going to come down to the team that can establish the run game and control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in a game like that,” Fairfield said.

The Big Reds have been preparing for Saturday’s game on their home field, which means they dealt with some snowy conditions on Tuesday. They head indoors on Wednesday then plan to be back outside Thursday and Friday.

The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the state finals to take on the winner of the Detroit Martin Luther King-Mason game.

“That would be nice, especially when you have a team that’s young and somewhat inexperienced,” Fairfield said of a possible trip to Detroit’s Ford Field. “But our seniors have grown up so much and we’re so proud of them. And, being patient with some of the young guys and still keeping it together and believing in themselves.

“They’ve been remarkable to coach this year,” Fairfield said. “It’s been a lot of fun, but we’ve had our moments where the inexperience and frustration have shown. But, I’m so proud of them being able to sustain all the expectations that we set for them. When people were doubting us and writing us off when we were 3-2 and now here we are in the final four.”

The state finals are set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26.